Callaway defense excels in opener
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It was a lock-down opening-night performance for the Callaway High defense.
Facing the Troup Tigers at Callaway Stadium, Callaway surrendered less than 250 yards of offense while nearly posting a shutout in the 27-7 victory.
Troup’s only points came after it took over at the Callaway 10-yard line following a mishandled punt attempt.
“The biggest thing I was proud of was I felt like we played hard the whole game,” said Dusty Hubbard, Callaway’s defensive coordinator. “We had some guys that played that hadn’t play a whole lot up to this point just because we had some guys out. We just played with really good effort.”
Defense figures to be a strong suit for Callaway with nearly every starter returning, and those veteran players excelled against Troup.
Senior linebacker Austin Thomas, who was an offensive lineman before making the transition to defense, led Callaway with 11 tackles.
“He’s such a good athlete,” Hubbard said of Thomas. “He’s about 190 pounds, and he’s a legitimate 4.6, high 4.5 runner (in the 40-yard dash), and he just does such a good job of tackling in space. He makes all the guys on our defense, so he’s a huge value to what we’re doing.”
Also for Callaway, linebacker LaQuize Gilbert had eight tackles, including three for loss, and linebacker Ladarrious Williams had seven tackles with three for loss.
Callaway’s other starting linebacker was Jarvis Parks, while the defensive linemen were Chauncey Bradford, Keshawn Suggs, Trey Stephens and Alan Shuman.
Defensive backs Jalin Shephard, Cameron Smith and Osiris Rivas, meanwhile, helped limit Troup to 70 passing yards while also contributing in the passing game.
All of Callaway’s defenders teamed up to slow down Troup running back Anthony Ferguson, who had more than 200 rushing yards in the season opener against Harris County.
Against Callaway, Ferguson was limited to 27 yards on 20 carries, and he got more than half of those yards on one 12-yard run.
Outside of Ferguson Troup did have some success in the running game.
AJ Tucker ran for 48 yards on seven attempts, and quarterback Taeo Todd had 108 yards on eight attempts.
“We wanted to bottle (Ferguson) up, and try to put them in situations where I felt like they had to throw the ball. I thought we did a pretty good job of that,” Hubbard said. “We brought a lot of guys down there in the box, and there were times where we had some shaky tackling, but that’s a two-way street. They’ve got good backs, good skill people you’re trying to tackle, and it’s always the first time they’re out there tackling live. You can kind of expect that.”
Hubbard had to dip into the depth chart.
Two of the players expected to start, defensive linemen Caden Prather and Sam Williams, were unavailable last week, and a number of other players struggled with cramp issues.
“Our guys fought through it, and we had some guys that came in and did a good job of giving us some reps,” Hubbard said. “I think we’ll be better this week getting two defensive starters back. That’ll help.”
Last season, a dominant defense helped Callaway reach the semifinals of the Class AA state playoffs.
Hubbard’s hope is that this defense will do some big things as well and perhaps help Callaway advance deep in the playoffs once again.
“You hope to stay healthy, and try to get better week to week, and work on the things you struggle with, and hopefully at the end of the year you’re playing for something big and the ball bounces your way a time or two,” Hubbard said.
RUNNING STRONG: Charlie Dixon, Callaway’s senior running back, began his season in style, running for 113 yards on 23 attempts with two touchdowns in the 28-7 win over Troup.
While Dixon was primarily a backup to Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby last season, he got a lot of playing time and filled in well while Bigsby missed a handful of games with injuries.
Dixon, after a lot of uncertainty in the spring and summer, was thrilled to be back on the football field last week.
“It means a lot. It means the world to me,” Dixon said. “Football is my life. I eat, sleep, and live football. Every day you wake up and you know you get to play another down. It’s the best part about it.”
In the passing game, senior quarterback Demetrius Coleman completed 6-of-13 passes for 69 yards with one touchdown.
Jalin Shephard had an 18-yard touchdown catch, and Carlos Billingslea had three receptions for 22 yards.
The men up front did their job as well, with offensive linemen Lathan Patterson, Juarez Patterson, Eli Freeman, Jacob Miles and Nate Lee helping Dixon run for more than 100 yards.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Troup seemed to have momentum after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter to get within seven, and Osiris Rivas returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for the score.
Rivas picked up the ball after it went over his head and bounced around for a little while, and he turned and eluded a few would-be tacklers before taking off toward the end zone.
“I thought it was going out of bounds,” Rivas said “It didn’t so I went ahead and scooped it up.”
After seeing an opening to the end zone, Rivas said “I thought I can really take it.”
Rivas did take it, and Callaway was in control the rest of the way.